Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TWIS Gets Recognized

The Tide and Wind Information system which we started an year ago in G-Plot panchayat area of Patharpratima, South 24 Parganas District, West Bengal had spread to neighboring Brajabhallavpur panchayat area too. In G-Plot the non-profit organization IDASS was helping CKS for field coordination, and in Brajabhallavpur, Sabuj Sangha and Concern Worldwide jointly supported for the same. Now, this has been recognized by DIP-ECHO, the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid supporting Disaster Risk Reduction programs in the country, as a best model that can be followed and replicated.

Much of early warning in India is generic and non-actionable. This means, people get general information about the cyclone. However, they do not know either the possible impact of the wind speed on the community or the height of the tides at vulnerable points and ferry Ghats (Ghat is the local word for a wharf/jetty). We are working with our partners to ensure that people get access to as much scientific accurate information as possible in a way that is understood. Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) is the resource agency working with the communities in streamlining the system. Community members, boatmen, fisher folk and early warning task force members were oriented to the global positioning system handheld devices. GPS readings for specific points were then taken and coordinates sent to the Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) for incorporation into their own management system. At INCOIS computer scripting and satellite information management process takes about 7-10 days. Following which INCOIS generates tide and wind forecasts for next 3 days for the entire West Bengal coast, with locations segregated. The data are sent to the partner organization Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) who then sends out a SMS every evening to volunteers (often a shop keeper, a school teacher or a member of the Ghat committee) in the community. The message giving details of wind speed and tide level for the next 3 days are updated on manually operated display boards placed on 10 different ferry Ghats and markets where they are visible to everyone.  The manually operated display board has the following information which is color coded.
            ·         The dates for which the information is given
·         The expected height of the highest high – tide.
·         The warning level (Green / Yellow / Red ) for the location (in terms of tide height)       
·         The expected maximum wind speed
·         The direction of wind speed
·         The warning level (Green / Yellow / Red ) for the location (in terms of wind speed
After the message is received by the early warning group it is further disseminated to school and community members through the use of Flags, sirens and megaphones by the warning task force members at school and community level.

CKS would be happy to partner with other organizations for strengthening the system in the states of West Bengal and Odisha.

In the Center of India

Although I have traveled passing through the city of Bhopal a few times, on 28 July I got the opportunity to travel there (where I will stay till 3 Aug morning) to give a training in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Emergencies to mostly government officials of the State Government of Madhya Pradesh. The program is organized with support from Unicef. The journey from Kolkata by Jet Connect was on time, with a stop over at Raipur, and so eating up 4 hours for the short journey on an ATR flight. Bhopal is fast growing into a huge urban center. The arterial roads are wide, smooth and pretty easy to drive. The others are not bad either. I was put up at Amer Greens, a hotel on the outskirts of the city. The place is very beautiful as it is away from the noisy disturbing hurried life style of city. It is spread on a large area with plenty of light and space. The garden is well-maintained for the rainy season. Food was certainly good, although I found it to be a bit richer than I would like it to be. In the morning they give a well laid buffet breakfast. I also took to the gym so that I can burn some extra calories in the few days I am here. My co-trainer Mr. Pradip also joins me in the gym, and we work out together. It is also fun because we plan our sessions for the next day as we literally "sweat it out"!

It has been fun, relaxing and yet challenging to conduct the training of 25 senior officers in Disaster Risk Reduction with focus on WASH.

Urban Dumping Yard

The whole of Muzaffarpur city seems to be one big dumping yard. A huge solid waste disposal ground. I was there for few days in the town. Even a travel of less than two kilometers seemed to be a tiresome journey, with poor road conditions, huge potholes and unruly road behavior. When I traveled to villages and outside the city, the roads were much better, greener and easy to drive. What is the problem with this town that it is a deathbed for every citizen with poorest civic amenities on ground.

I must speak about the two hotels I stayed on. Hotel New Milan is on the main road, very close to Bibiganj in Muzaffarpur. The hotel is well connected, food is satisfactory, rooms are more-or-less tidy. But the quality of service and security features left much to be desired. Women traveling alone should not stay in this hotel at all. The other was Meenakshi International, which is situated just opposite of the Muzaffarpur train station. The rooms are large and decent, food is good, service was very good. They need to improve on cleanliness in rooms a little more. The positioning of TV in the room was not convenient in all the rooms. The hotel also has a large restaurant, meeting hall etc. But, I had one big problem: in spite of the word “international” it carries with its name, I could not pay them by card, and so had to search for an ATM. The road just outside the hotel gets flooded even with little rain, and it is totally filthy as there is no proper drainage and waste disposal mechanism in place in the municipality. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Unsafe Travel on the Wheels

17 July : I was traveling from Muzaffarpur in Bihar to Bardhamman in West Bengal, returning after the training to doctors in three districts on flood preparedness and response management. The train arrived at 7.20 pm, a good one hour 45 minutes late than its scheduled time. I was in two tier AC coach which is supposed to be one of the best coaches, with additional cost involved in it. But, to my surprise there were people who were going to nearby towns, who were even supposed to get down at night 1.00 pm, with ordinary tickets, but sitting in the two tier AC. They had bribed their way in by paying some money to the ticket examiner. When I returned to Muzaffarpur again on 20 July, I say even crowds with just current ticket going for a religious festival in the sacred month of Shravan in Hindu calendar, were forcing their way into air-conditioned coaches and the policemen were just watching helplessly. What is happening to the Indian railways? It is becoming difficult to travel safe in the trains.
After three days, I was returning from Patna. (I cancelled the ticket from Muzaffarpur due to the fear of being overpowered by the same “religious” crowds.) This time the train was a super-fast, and so did not have much stops and was not much crowded as well. At 1.30 am, policemen came and asked me if the bags which contained mostly the training materials were mine. I said, “Yes”. They said, “Jaagkar raheyega!” which meant, “Remain awake”. So, who is supposed to take responsibility if there are thieves and the several “religious” persons walking around in the train without any proper ticket? Me? I am supposed to keep awake? Ridiculous. If you have to take a train for your travel, do it only in emergencies, take care….Don’t sleep. And, better still, if you can avoid, avoid the Indian Railways.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Poverty Sells Child for Less than an Euro

Indian media is filled with a news from the Araria district of Bihar in Bihar state about a woman who has sold one of her children to a couple from Nepal at 100 Nepali rupees, equal to less than a Euro (Indian rupees 62.5).  On the one hand India keeps boasting of economic and social development, while on the other hand we have these incidents keep happening regularly where parents sell children for repaying debts or for their own survival. As I write this, a farmer has committed suicide due to burden of loan for agricultural purposes. The Shining India must ensure that the weaker lamps get enough oil to burn bright.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Public Menace and Public Outcry

It is already four days now, and the electronic media is playing out a shameless act of public molestation of a 17 year old girl that took place at 9.30 in the evening in Guwahati, the capital of Assam State in India. There are too many problems with the incident. The girl seemed to have had some altercation with a man inside the bar from which she was getting out when the incident took place. Who was this man? Did he instigate the mob to molest this girl and strip her? Some TV channels are suggesting that this was the scribe of a TV channel that broke the news first a day later. Someone else seems to have got a "raw footage" of the incidents without "the editing" by the news channel and has claimed that in the other video the audio can be heard of the scribe saying to another person how he had "organized the incident". Was the editing of the footage reason for delaying the telecast by a day while every channel fights to shell out "breaking news" as it happens?. 

The second point is, giving benefit of doubt, considering that the molestation took place on the instigation of another person, the TV channel has rightly pointed out that if it were not for the footage the criminals would have gone scot free as there would be hardly any evidence against them. This is absolutely true. In India, every day hundreds of women are abused, molested or raped. But things don't get the importance if it were not for TV footage. Why is this? Why each case is not taken seriously and has to wait for the media to take stand? 

There is a National Commission for Women. I have serious problem with this commission as their job seems to be just taking reports and sending out reports. Other than this, the commission looks like a toothless tiger. I have never heard of the Commission having charged anyone or a government and brought them to book. There is a need to give ample powers to this Commission so that it can take punitive action. Now, look at this: there is an unwritten law that a victim of molestation or rape or a victim who is a minor (below 18 years) is never named to protect the identity of the person so that the person can live a normal life. Can anyone believe that the officials of National Commission for Women, while addressing the media, revealed the full identity of the girl? This is callousness and the official must be shunted out of the office and suspended. Unless we send out strong signals to officials, such callousness will continue to live on. Responsible channels like CNN-IBN showed the media brief but by blocking the name of the girl with a beep. This is responsible journalism. 

The Chief Minister of Assam has promised action and has given deadline till 16 July evening to catch all culprits. The police has managed to get only 4 so far. Probably many molesters have already escaped the police net and have become fugitives in neighboring states.

Training Doctors in Flood Preparedness - Madhepura

Next our halt was in Madhepura, and instead of Dr. Ravikant, Dr. Prabir Chatterjee was supposed to join. I spent the day of 8 July resting and preparing some reports and formats. In the evening, I reached Madhepura and Dr. Prabir was waiting for me. We stayed at the Emmanuel Mission Hospital in Madhepura. The training was at the District Hospital with 32 participants, mostly doctors and a few health officials attending the training. Mr. Imran, the District Health Manager was helpful and kind although he could not give much time. (Thank you Imran for organizing the training, importantly for shifting the training venue from the lean veranda in the first floor to a wider veranda in the ground floor. Madhepura is in fact looking at another flood as river Kosi is carrying more water than the actual rainfall which is due to lots of rains in Nepal, the river's catchment area. I could also meet Dr. Augustine, a man from Tamilnadu, and lives here at the Emmanuel Mission Hospital as the hospital administrator. He is highly committed to live (with his wife and cute little child) on a small salary that this hospital offers to him. The hospital also needs some voluntary support. Doctors can volunteer to serve and to conduct operations here. Nurses and medical students can come and work as volunteers. And those who can may support with financial help. After completing the training on 9th & 10th of July at the Madhepura district hospital, I left for Darbhanga to start the next training for doctors on 11th & 12th, with much hope!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Mr. Tanaji Sen from RedR India called on an urgent note on the last day of June and asked if I can go to few districts of Bihar to train doctors in flood preparedness. I agreed because the training is going to be more challenging, new and certainly help me to learn more. The first district I was to visit is Supaul. On 4 July I reached Patna and had discussions with officials from Unicef, RedR India and my co-trainer for Supaul, Dr. Ravikant. The discussion started at 6.30 pm and ended at 9.00 pm. At the end of the day I knew that we will not be able to leave early for Supaul on 5th. And that is what it happened. Since some formats were not ready and some training materials had not been printed, we waited and left at 1.30 pm. Meanwhile, I had prepared on a better format for planning at the district and block level which the doctors can use for flood disaster management plan. 

A friend of mine at World Vision had helped us get a Scorpio jeep to take us to Supaul and to other places. Our driver was soft and slow on the wheels, and we had reached Darbhanga at 7.30 pm with another good two and a half hours of drive at his speed. So, we thought of calling it off a day. We went to a nearby temple to see as Dr. Ravikant was interested in visiting the place, and then stayed at Hotel Ganga within the Darbhanga fortress. (Hotel Ganga was big, costlier, but with poor service. I do not recommend people  staying there.) Darbhanga was ruled by the kings of Mithila and Darbhanga and the adjacent districts were known as the Mithila kingdom in the ancient days. On 6th morning at 5.30 am we left for Supaul and the first training started at 11.00 am with the district Chief Medical Officer inaugurating the program. The training was on 6th and 7th July 2012 with about 60 doctors, block health managers and other officials from health department attending the same. (On 6th we stayed at Hotel Gautam in Supaul. The rooms were small, but clean, and the service was good for just Rs. 600 for air conditioned double bedded room. And the food was cheap too. Just on the outside there are many eateries: vegetarian and non-vegetarian, all of them giving good food for spice lovers. I enjoyed my stay at Supaul. Would love to go back again!) Mr. B.K Verma and Mr. Pankaj Kr. Jha from District Health Society were very helpful throughout the program. On 7th, Dr. Ravikant left me at Saharsa and he left for Patna. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Days after the Polio Round

The days after the last polio round (from 24 June) were mostly uneventful. I spent some time in preparing the Annual Report of CKS which is now nearly complete, but for one or two simple details. I also traveled to Kolkata for field visits. A friend from United States (Ms. Mary T) was with me till 1 July. And so, spent some time with her as well. There was a visit from Core Group (Deputy Director Mr. Jitendra A visited for a meeting with all project coordinators and block coordinators. And, from 30 June till 2 July noon, I helped in preparing the team of trainers of CKS to go to Bihar to give a training in Disaster Preparedness. The days went too quick that I just couldn't sit down to write my blog. Pretty busy days. 

One thing that I have found to have happened to me is this - I have not found myself to be without work. If there is no work, I generate work ! People and friends continue to support me all the time. That remains a meaningful thing in life.Well, there was a sudden call from RedR India, asking me to go to Bihar to train doctors in Flood Preparedness. Till the day I left, not much of training material was available. All that I knew is, I will have to go to Supaul, Madhepura and Saharsa to give training to doctors and Block Health Managers for two days each.